The beauty and the Beercules, a reflexion on what makes a photograph unique.

Not too long ago, I visited a friend of mine in Barcelona; I hadn't seen her in a long time. I once shot her in Ireland, on the beach near Drogheda (north of Dublin). Back in the days I published very few of those pictures, but visiting her reminded me to look into my old negatives. And that takes me to a interesting point about photography: how unique can a picture actually be? 

Let's take a painter, or a band: both have elements that make them who they are in a unique, hard to replicate way. When you see a Dali, well you know it's a Dali. You can either have a copy, in which case there was no intention to be creative in the first place. Or you can have an other painting inspired by Dali's style, with hopefully an extra personal touch from that other painter, which makes it unique in some way. Back to the musical comparison, no one sounds like Liam Gallagher or Till Lindemann. Sure some bands like Muse and Placebo sound a little bit the same if you don't pay attention, but the lyrics are unique, and the songs and melodies are too.

So what about photography? Let's be honest, in the field of fashion anyone could learn how to reproduce a high production value shot. It's pure technique: get the same/similar model that poses the same way, light can be learned, editing too, cameras all work the same. The fact is, I dare you to tell me in fashion magazines that you can recognize the style of each photographer, and regroup images under the name of who shot them. You just can't. Even guys like Terry Richardson - who has a little "je ne sais quoi" but it's minor and mostly based on sex and celebrities- well even his shots look the same as anybody else's when he tries to do clean fashion. Same goes with landscapes and many other genres.

With the internet we are exposed to a huge melee of good pros, awful photographers that are pros (they earn a living with it, but still sucks balls real bad), and amateurs that are much better than pros. They all post, blog, flickr, and have easy access to millions of images. It leads to uniformity and trends (lately cross processing effects and faded color halos). It is really becoming very hard to shoot with a clean mind, free of all the nice images you've seen somewhere else.

So what makes an photograph unique? In my opinion it is about:
  1. the story it tells, and that mostly concerns documentaries and journalists. This is why I worship war photographers and those who seek to be there in that special moment, that image that will tell a story. 
  2. your relationship with the people you are shooting, and that is good news. You copied techniques from other photographers? You used the same post processing as many? Don't feel bad. It looks good doesn't it? Then enjoy. The thing is, when you shoot someone you care about, or even hate (as long as there is a feeling), there will be in your picture something that only you can see, whatever is personal. In addition to that, if you friend likes the way he/she feels about himself/herself thru your eyes, you added a nice little thing to your relationship with him/her. That picture won't matter to most, but to you two it will.
This is why I love photography, is it a major form of art in the sense that it's all snobbishly unique and hard to do? No. It is a major form of art because it's accessible, personal, naturally appealing to everyone. People always want to see the pictures don't they? So sure there is a lot of trash among the gazillion tons of pictures that have been posted in the past 20 years, but so much great shots in the middle that could be from anyone. And again, there could be that one picture no one but you cares about but you, because it tells your story and the story of a friend.

So I'm home looking at those old scans (Nikon FE and Mamiya 67 cameras), and as I've had a great time with my friend in Barcelona, getting to know her much better, I now project her personality and emotions onto each image so much more than before. Sometimes, shoot the ones you love instead of random people, you'll like your pictures better, and do something nice for a friend or family member. This is my friend,  her name is Natalija.

Plus, here are more picture of candids from my vacation, no posing, just the moment, our story (D600 and 35mm F2 if you wonder).

This one is mine, miiiine don't even think about it.

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